Will trans woman’s victory bring change to government hiring?
Military veteran Diane Schroer’s recent legal victory highlights the challenges faced by the transgendered, both during and after serving their country with honor.
Schroer, who was denied employment from the Library of Congress,was awarded the maximum compensation allowed by law in return for the discrimination she suffered, including $491,190 plus $183,653 for back pay/benefits and $300,000 for emotional pain.
Bringing to an end a contentious legal process that began in 2005, the court acknowledged that Schroer suffered devastating effects of discrimination when she revealed, in the final phase of the hiring process, that she was transitioning and would arrive at the job as a female.
A Special Forces veteran, Schroer held a high level security clearance necessary for her new prospective job. But the government both portrayed her as a security risk and claimed the credentials and credits she acquired during her 25 years of military service were void when David became a different person-Diane.
Sharon McGowan, an attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, has represented Schroer since the case began. It is her hope that the new administration will allow this case to set a legal precedent by not appealing the decision (which acknowledges that she faced job discrimination) or the financial compensation. Although "no formal substantive conversations with relevant decision makers are under way," McGowan says she is hopeful.
"There are a number of places and times where the Obama administration has clearly stated its commitment to non discrimination on the basis of sexual or and gender identity," she told Edge. "They do use that phrase."
Despite its every effort to portray Schroer as untrustworthy, McGowan says that this rare court victory for a transgendered person facing job discrimination was helped substantially by the multitude of Schroer’s military colleagues who testified as to the character of the man they knew as David as well as the woman that had become Diane.
"Suggestions that military people are more biased against the transgendered has not turned out to be the case here," she said. "A number of her colleagues testified, responding to the government’s argument that Diane would not be effective because she would lose all the contacts she had in the military when she was David."
Schroer would need those contacts in her new position as a researcher. The job would require interacting with current or retired military representatives.
"The government jumped to the conclusion that these people who knew and liked Diane when she was David would no longer be interested or willing to work with her when they learned she was transitioning," McGowan said.
The court rejected these arguments as unfounded speculation that, the judge decreed, was rebutted by the testimony of Schroer’s military colleagues. The court, according to McGowan, "found that’s not a legitimate reason to hire someone anyway" As for the implication that Schroer’s new gender identity status caused her to be a security risk, "Judge Robertson found Diane to be a person of tremendous honesty and integrity."
As for the legal precedent set by Schroer’s victory, McGowan notes "This ruling sends a very clear message to employers that an individual’s gender identity is not something that should be a deciding factor as to whether or not somebody gets a job. I hope as a result of this ruling, we’ll have fewer cases."
But Will the Obama Administration Listen?
Angela Brightfeather, co-founder and national vice president of TAVA (Transgender American Veterans Association ) praises Schroer as "an outstanding individual with a tremendous service record. Her friends in the military stood by her dramatically well--much more than any other case I’ve heard of."
Although the decision may be cause for cautious optimism, Brightfeather points out that the transgendered veterans continue to face discrimination when they attempt to access the most basic of health services at Veterans Administration medical facilities.
TAVA, which works largely with transgendered people who have served in the military and have had honorable discharges, is currently in the process of working with the Veterans Administration to "rewrite the present regulations to change the language and the rules to make sure they’re more favorable to transpeople. Our primary mission is to make sure no transgendered veteran who applies for health services at any VA facility is turned down for standard medical care because they’re transgendered."
For statistics regarding the medical care challenges of transgendered veterans, visit the TAVA home page and access a 2008 survey conducted in cooperation with the Palm Center. "Transgender People in the U.S. Military: Summary and Analysis of the 2008 Transgender American Veterans Association Survey."
When a transgendered person arrives at a VA facility for help, Brightfeather notes, the fact that they are trans "Ends up in their military record. The word has gotten around within the facility with nurses and doctors that this person is transgendered that’s against the HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws, so there’s been outright discrimination."
The TAVA has been in touch with the committee charged with reviewing current policy and recommending changes. "It is made up of doctors within the VA system," Brightfeather adds. "To our knowledge, there are no transgendered people on the committee. We’ve talked to them, but they’ve not asked us to participate."
Although she’s seen a preliminary draft of recommended revisions and sent back recommendations, "We’ve not found out if our input has been taken into account."
As for Schroer, her public statement released after the court decision could well apply to those who face medical care discrimination as well as resistance from prospective employers.
"I served our country because I believed in an America that is committed to ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity to have a meaningful life," she said. "That belief was shaken when I was told I wasn’t worthy to do what I trained my entire life to do because I happen to be transgender. Today’s decision restores my faith in our democracy. The court understood the senseless harm that is caused by discrimination, and that gives me hope that others will also."